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Alumni artwork digs past surfaces in ‘Excavation’ exhibit

Dialogue between diverse artistic styles exposes uncertainties about memory, modernity

Beyond the two-by-fours of a derelict construction site, a cityscape looms stoically in the distance. Obscured geometric patterns evoke the protective stance of a mother crouching over a cradle. A rough, asphalt-like exterior is chiseled away to expose a smooth, blue underbelly.

Such images of instability and anxiety haunt the Perry and Marty Granoff Center for the Creative Arts in “Excavation,” an exhibit that includes work by Lauren Gidwitz ’06, Laini Nemett ’06 and Ellen Schneiderman ’05. The three alums paint in a studio space of their own design in Long Island City. And while the artists work in a variety of styles and media, they are engaged in a shared conversation about the intersection of memory, history and the physical spaces they occupy.

Schneiderman’s works explore a kind of “subverted archaeological process where she both creates the dig site and engages with the digging,” according to her artist’s statement. She built her “Mound” series through layers of homemade paper pulp, stripping pieces off to reveal underlying colors and patterns.

This paradox of creation and destruction is also at play in Nemett’s work. “Africa, Delaware and Roosevelt Island” depicts an incomplete renovation project within a dilapidated building.

Schneiderman’s work does not advance a coherent theme on its own. Perhaps this ambiguity is an extension of her process, which implicates the viewer in uncovering and conceptualizing a buried history. But because of Schneiderman’s rather nebulous aesthetic approach, the final products are not as compelling as the process itself.

Gidwitz’s work, mostly non-representational oil paintings, expresses “separate and simultaneous experiences, intertwining memory of physical and psychological spaces,” according to her artist statement. Overlapping patterns, textures and shapes create an abstract hodge-podge in “Stones Bones and Hiding Bergs,” smattered in short, pale brushstrokes and flanked on one side by thick taupe stripes. Though the relationships between the various elements appear haphazard, the somewhat muted, earthy color scheme establishes a calm sensibility.

Nemett’s work’s juxtaposition with Schneiderman’s archaeological perspective invites a dialogue about the frailty and impermanence of physical structures.

Nemett’s representations of urban spaces are easier to digest than Schneiderman’s works, and the familiarity of construction sites and city skylines give the viewer something to latch onto. But the subtle manipulations of perspective and line destabilize the scenery.

“Covered,” one of Nemett’s works, depicts the surface of a raised platform, its emptiness made eerie by its detachment from a specific time or place. The smudged tile walls in the background are reminiscent of a subway platform or public restroom, but the vibrant, baroque floor design erodes this modern framework. The pillars, outlined in strips of blue artist’s tape, at first seem to unify these disparate elements. But there is a distinct lack of reinforcement where the tape frays off before it reaches the floor. It seems more firmly attached to the ceiling, which is painted the wrinkled texture of a paper bag and inclines at an impossible angle. The longer the viewer looks at the architecture, the more apparent its fragility and impending collapse become.

“Excavation” will be on display in the Cohen Gallery until April 29.


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